I’m very excited to be reviewing this guitar. In case you’re not familiar, Martin’s D-28 has been around since the 1930s, and is regarded as somewhat of a holy grail of acoustic guitars.
To those not really looking or caring, it could be any old acoustic, but that’s part of the charmed of such a revered instrument: the understated elegance. This is a long way from dragon-adorned PRSs, Deans inlaid with snakes or even a relatively standard sunburst finish. This might leave you wondering if it‘s not so fancy, why does it cost so much?
Core Features and Specs
That question is mostly answered when you run through the parts that Martin Guitars are using for the D-28. Add in the fact that it’s made in the United States, whose labor isn’t as cheap as it might be in the east, and you’re into professional level guitar prices.
Style Dreadnought Body material Sitka spruce and East Indian rosewood body Neck Select hardwood Fingerboard Ebony Frets 20 Pickup Not on this one, but it is an optional extra
I feel like it’s worth pointing out though, a lot of the D-28’s selling point that puts it in this price range does come down to the fact that it’s a D-28.
This will work well for…
Hmm… it’s a tricky consideration this.
Look, it’s one of the oldest, most iconic sounding and looking guitars in the world. It’s essentially the acoustic guitar all other acoustics aspire to be like, the foundation of contemporary acoustic guitar… stuff.
This will work well for anybody looking for the one acoustic guitar sound to rule them all, or something like that.
I feel like I’m going to keep going on about the cost of this guitar, but it is a significant factor. It’s very few players that could afford to have this and a few others around just for lols.
Does it do what it should?
There’s not an awful lot to say about the parts of an acoustic guitar, especially, when I’ve been bleating on about how simple and humble it is!
My favorite bit, and what I feel is the most high-end of the parts on the instrument, is the fingerboard, crafted from ebony. That’s super-swish. I always regard it as a hallmark of a guitar that’s going above and beyond.
In terms of the hardware on the D-28, everything is Martin’s own-brand. On electric guitars, I do know that some brands do certain pieces of hardware better, so I’m happy to see a set of Seymour Duncan pickups or Grover tuners, but when it’s Martin, who are the standard-setters, it’s OK for them not to outsource such things.
One thing that bothered me going through the specs in the last section, was the neck material being listed as “select hardwood.” What even is that? If I’m paying $3k+ for a guitar, I’ll want to know what’s in it, down to the atom. I mean, not really, I flunked physics, but still, I want to know what kind of wood is in my expensive guitar.
From what the internet can make out, it means that the hardwood used depends on availability, and will be either mahogany or Spanish Cedar. I don’t have time for a considered review of the tonal or playing differences between those two.
You may or may not be surprised to read that the first look at this guitar with consideration towards its construction yields no surprises: this is guitar building at its finest. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Martin includes the D-28 as one of the models they subject to their Plek processing method. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t a manufacturing technique they were using when they were building the originals in 1930!
Anyway, Plek processing uses a very clever piece of computer software to scan the neck of the new instrument, and dress the frets onto the fingerboard based on the neck tension that it detects, as well as emulating the guitar being played.
I know: it sounds a lot like witchcraft!
The guitar that has been constructed using this witchcraft are labeled as Playability Enhanced.
It might sound like the kind of mass-manufacturing process that would put some players off when they’re looking for a high-end acoustic, but when you think about the demand for Martin acoustic guitars, compared to manufacturers who retain traditional construction methods, it’s no surprise that they want to speed things up.
Following on from that, in the interest of protecting their brand name, Martin isn’t going to let a guitar out of their factory if the quality isn’t as good as it’s always been.
I should probably start by clarifying the scenario of the review. Unlike electric guitars, where I can describe amps and pickup settings etc, an acoustic guitar’s sounds will be determined a lot more just by the room it’s being played in.
So, while reviewing this D-28, I’m in a regular sized living room. It’s got a wooden floor, but the curtains and furniture dampen any bathroom-esque reverbs. This means it’s a dry sounding room, so I should get the most out of the tonal nuances of this expensive instrument.
Having selected a 1mm pick, I start by strumming through a few chords, relatively lightly. The thing that strikes most is the brightness of the notes. Not bright as in trebly, but bright as in having a pleasant presence. Even without strumming at full, or even medium force, when I let the notes ring out, everything sounds balanced and even: not too trebly or bassy.
Getting more of a feel for it in my hands, I lay into it a little bit more, with some lick-orientated playing, heading in a lively, bluesy direction.
Through my playing, I didn’t get any fret buzz. Thinking about it, when a guitar costs this much, I’d be very annoyed if I did!
I feel silly writing about the playability of this guitar. When was the last time anybody reported on playing a high-end guitar and it being awful? To be fair, guitars that have been played a bit, and broken in like a pair of jeans are my preference, but if they’re awful to start with, they’ll never get broken in!
Anyhoo, I might as well talk about the fingerboard. As mentioned right at the start of this review, I’m a big fan of such things. For me, it’s the epitome of the perfectly crafted fingerboard, and I could play it forever.
Considering the aforementioned Plek system, and quite frankly, if you think it’s somehow better, or even noticeably different than a well-crafted guitar fretted by hand, I’d say you’re letting nostalgia and purism get in the way of an objective review. There is nothing to fault with the neck and fretwork, and it’s incredibly comfortable to play.
I do find with iconic guitars, especially expensive ones, you do have to remind yourself that it is just a guitar, and not to get caught up in reversing it so much that you forget to enjoy playing. As Noel Gallagher once said of guitars in general: “It’s a plank with six strings.”
Between the playability and the sounds, this will easily hold its own as the only acoustic guitar you’ll ever need.
Pros and Cons
- The one acoustic guitar tone to rule them all
- Exciting use of technology and innovation in its construction
- That ebony fingerboard
- Feels delightful to play
- That price tag is fairly prohibitive
- Some players may want more of an aesthetic wow-factor for this price
Alternatives to Try
There will never be a shortage of alternatives to any acoustic guitar in any price range, but here are a few of my favorites.
If you’re looking for a high-end acoustic dreadnought, but with a bit more aesthetic flair than the humble nature of the D-28’s, you won’t go wrong with a Gibson Hummingbird.
The Taylor 710
The Taylor 710 is a very classy instrument. Aesthetically, it keeps it humble, but with a few subtle touches that demonstrate visual extras, like its koa binding and herringbone rosette. Pretty. Looks aside, it’s made with a Lutz spruce top, as opposed to Sitka.r Natura
They might be better known for some of their more innovative approaches to acoustic guitar design, but Breedlove are more than capable of stripping things right back, devoid of design features that might imply they’re just gimmicky.
Apparently that’s nature’s hybrid of Sitka and White spruce. It also has a slightly shorter scale neck, which they claim allows easier bending of strings. I’m not a fan of string bends on acoustic guitars, but just to let you know it’s there if you need it.
Breedlove Premier Dreadnought Mahogany Acoustic-Electric Guitar
Dreadnought Mahogany guitar sits right in that category.
It comes with a Sitka spruce top, mahogany sides and neck, and a tasty ebony fingerboard.
If you’ve got the money, but only the space for one acoustic guitar, I do recommend the Martin D-28. It is the only one you’ll ever need.
There’s nothing to fault. It’s been around since 1930, they know what they’re doing… and that means that there’ll be quite a few used ones around. I’d suggest avoiding looking at ones that are too old, otherwise, you’ll be looking at well above the current MSRP!
If you plan on recording or gigging with this guitar though, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a sound engineer with the relevant equipment to get the most of its tone.